Protests in North Africa: The Arab Spring Was Just the Beginning

2011 was not the end, but the beginning, and maybe it wasn’t even that. Perhaps the deep crisis of the traditional social contract that underpinned most of the MENA region’s ruling regimes since independence had begun even before. The first cracks could be already be heard by sensitive ears in the 2000s, when the liberal reforms introduced by several Arab governments failed to address the increasing needs (and new expectations) of fast-growing populations and the first, scattered protests began to pop-up. What changed in 2011 was simply the fact that this time the cracks became audible to everyone in the world.

Despite all the efforts of many Arab regimes to reestablish and stabilize the pre-2011 authoritarian status quo over the last decade, successive waves of protests have kept erupting in numerous countries, from Algeria to Lebanon, and Iraq. North Africa saw the end of two decades-long presidencies in 2019 alone – that of Omar Al-Bashir in Sudan and that of Bouteflika in Algeria. In the meantime, despite the attempts of other regimes to keep a façade of normality and stability, new demonstrations have been recorded also in Morocco and in Egypt, where the Al-Sisi government’s applies levels of repression that have even surpassed those of his authoritarian predecessor Hosni Mubarak. Even Tunisia, the only country that came out from the 2011 upheavals with a full-fledged, although fragile, democracy, has seen continuous high levels of political contention.

Such trends can be observed clearly by analyzing the data provided by the successive waves of the Arab Barometer surveys[1] – Wave III (2012), Wave IV (2016-2017), and Wave V (2018-2019). In Figure 1 we can see the percentage of the people interviewed in four North African countries – Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Egypt – that affirmed of having participated at least once in a demonstration over the previous three years (in Wave III, which was carried out in 2012, people were instead asked whether they had participated in the 2011 Arab Spring).

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